Sherlock 4.02: “The Lying Detective” Review


A Television Review by Akash Singh


The inherent problem with Sherlock is that Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss have seemingly lost the ability to understand they have to write other characters besides Sherlock Holmes that they have to write for. Sherlock becomes so thoroughly magnanimous at times that it goes beyond the realm of a reasonable narrative structure. Everything becomes about Sherlock. Every character revolves around Sherlock. Every female character becomes nothing but a cipher in the realm of Sherlock, meant to serve him and to a lesser degree John before vanishing off into the night. It’s so thoroughly preposterous that at a certain point one has to wonder if Moffat and Gatiss themselves have become thoroughly incapable of understanding that they’re not writing a one-man show but a series where characters have to grow and move as engaging individuals themselves, outside of however they may interact with the titular character. Sherlock Holmes, to the show’s immense credit, is a thoroughly realized, complete character that manages to stick out of the countless adaptations of Ser Arthur Conan Doyle’s work that have come before. But the show doesn’t just create an immensely complex character, it worships the very ground he walks on and at a certain point that just doesn’t work. Imagine Game of Thrones never pointing out that Jon, Daenerys, and Tyrion have made some fairly ostensible and in some cases, murderous mistakes. Sherlock’s shooting of a man is the butt of a joke in this episode because somehow that episode of his was “fun” and not a critical juncture in the character’s development that had to be addressed. Anytime Sherlock is likely to face any legitimate consequences, the show suddenly doesn’t bother with them, pretending that their lovable detective is just so adorable that he shouldn’t have to actually wrestle with the consequences of his behavior. I love Sherlock as a character and in spite of that, I can see that he needs to wrestle and be legitimately challenged. The show needs to do that as well.

The first and foremost problem with this particular episode is that it takes Sherlock’s well-documented drug addiction problem and uses it as a plot device that is revealed as some sort of third-act stroke of brilliance. It is anything but. Drugs are consequential. The addition to drugs is consequential and that isn’t a statement meant to sound preachy or moralistic as the word consequential can have several contexts. It’s a statement of fact. Sherlock’s addiction problem, however, was decidedly in the negative and he has acknowledged as much so the show using it as nothing more than a gag, a clever ruse is frankly insulting to not only the individuals who have gone through drug addition problems similar to Sherlock’s, but also the individuals around them who have worked with them through those trying times. That Sherlock is brilliant and clever is a given and at this point the greatest twist would be for him to be monumentally wrong and actually suffer a little for it, but this being the Moffat and Gatiss show, I highly doubt that would ever happen. That Sherlock is so thoroughly in control that he would be able to completely go through the motions of being drugged with his brilliance and wherewithal intact is simply idiotic writing, a characterization gone to hell. If you’ve been through a similar addiction and you didn’t deduce a trap to capture a serial killer, well, you’re just an idiot because Sherlock can do so. It’s yet again the complete lack of ability for Sherlock to force its hero to face the consequences of his actions. Even if someone were to actually buy the crap of Sherlock’s addiction or go past it, the trap in and of itself simply doesn’t work. The villain’s guilt is so thoroughly obvious from the first frame that the possible tension that Sherlock might actually be wrong about this man being a serial killer never comes to fruition. That the script never manages to realize this fairly obvious flaw is mind-numbing, but then again all of the marketing for this episode played up the “this is the most evil man on the planet” angle, so at a certain point one just has to assume that no one bothered to actually make sure that aspect of the plot actually made any sense.

As noted last week, Moffat and Gatiss have a significant problem writing female characters. In spite of the good character work Moffat has done in regards to Clara  (some of her storyline, anyhow) and Sally Sparrow in Doctor Who for example, he has a terrible habit of having his female characters loudly declare that they are independent of men without the script actually following through on that. He simply can’t write them without some semblance of a man attached and in rare cases, such as Sally, the men aren’t that important to the journey of the female character. But because this is Sherlock and everything revolves around him to the nth degree, Moffat is simply unable to do so. Molly has ceased functioning as an actual organic character of her own since forever. Irene Adler shows up as a text and even though she’s a lesbian, she is identified in the episode as being a viable sexual option for Sherlock, because how could anyone resists Sherlock the Great? The sharp and charming Mrs. Hudson, who hilariously owns a swanky sports car, goes back to her note that she isn’t a housekeeper. Later in the episode, she comes back as an emotional guardian for Sherlock and Watson. It’s a touching moment in and of itself, but it doesn’t help that Mrs. Hudson is barely a character on her own. The most egregious treatment of a female character continues to be Mary. Her entire arc has been so thoroughly diminished by the two male show runners that it almost belies belief. Mary is a constant presence throughout this episode, serving as a literal ghost not of her own being half the time but a personification of John’s own imagination. Even when John confesses tearfully that he did cheat on Mary, the Mary of his own imagination tells him to “get on with it.” Perhaps the real Mary would have said the same thing (I doubt it), but her ghost walking out of frame after that as the camera shifts to Sherlock and John’s hug was yet another indicator of how much she served as a character who meant more to Sherlock and John’s relationship than as her own individual. The reveal of Sherlock’s and Mycroft’s sibling being the woman on the bus feels yet again like Moffat trying to make a meta statement on his feminism, in which case he should actually explain for one thing why Sherlock and Mycroft constantly referred to their brother and not their sister. The actual reveal also suffers from some logical issues in terms of how John and Sherlock were so poor at recognizing her, especially as she doubled as John’s therapist. The reveal nevertheless did jolt a thoroughly dull episode with a sharp injection of energy, but considering this show’s track record with women, it’s difficult to be optimistic.

Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:

+“What’s the worst thing you can do to your very best friends?”

+“I meant the chips.”

+“How can that be your car?”

+“It’s gown downhill a bit, hasn’t it?” Speaking of meta statements…

+“Get out of my house, you reptile.”



Episode Title: The Lying Detective

Written by: Steven Moffat

Directed by: Nick Hurran

Story Reference: “The Adventure of the Dying Detective”

Image Courtesy: Screen Crush


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